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Heifer International is an incredibly successful, widespread, localized organization that takes a most intelligent approach to implementing programs that establish sustainable communities in areas of the world most in need.  Heifer also has an extraordinary amount of programs in place for those in need in the U.S., and uses a holistic approach to participation that is unlike any other organization.  I spoke with Noland Hoshino and Bryan Dainty, both active participants in the grassroots group of Heifer Portland, to learn more about how the programs of Heifer work.


Love+Water- Heifer International has many different programs in place that work to end poverty and hunger.  Can you explain how they are set up?

Noland Hoshino- Many people know of Heifer International as the organization that works to put an end to hunger and poverty, but the actual model of Heifer International is to pass on the gift of teaching communities in need how to thrive on their own without the aid of outside help.  Heifer accomplishes that in many different ways, the most popular one being sending livestock to countries in need.  But they go many steps further than that by providing training and education so communities learn how to use the animal’s resources to build sustainable areas.  

L+W- When someone wants to donate an animal, are they able to choose which area of the world it goes to?

NH- All the animals are locally produced, so when people want to donate to a specific country you can go to the website, click on the catalog and then specify which country you want it to go to.  They also have campaigns where they are able to match your donation, which is a great way to help as well.  

Bryan Dainty- Heifer’s primary mission is to end hunger and poverty while saving the earth.  So sustainability is a huge aspect of each program.  There are many projects that focus on training and awareness for communities that aren’t educated in certain ways, such as what their rights are within their local governments, women’s health issues and using their animals as a resource to live.  

NH- In Peru there was a project that partnered with a local NGO to provide donkeys and water buckets for a community that had to walk for miles to get water.  It’s that kind of help that allows communities to gain the confidence and resources they need to build better lives for themselves.  That is why the programs Heifer provides make so much sense for the long-term.  When they leave, communities are able to lead more productive and healthy lives for many years.

L+W- How did you both get involved with Heifer?

NH- We received the Heifer International gift catalog in the mail, and had never heard of it before.  We read the first page and were blown away at the amount of contributions they are able to give to the communities they work with.  We wanted to get more involved, so we wrote to them to see if there was a local group here in Portland.  There was, and we became very involved with promoting Heifer locally.  

BD- The work is about building long-term sustainability communities, which is what was most appealing to us.  What many people don’t realize is that Heifer has more projects in the United States than any other country

in the world.  It is both local and global, almost equally so, and that is extremely valuable as well because there is a huge poverty issue here in the United States.  The fact that we can be a part of a local and global organization that produces such a high success rate from their programs is extremely fulfilling to us.

L+W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had with Heifer International?

NH- We went to Peru this year and were able to see two Pass On The Gift ceremonies, which is when an individual in need receives an animal from another family that was once in need.  The first one we saw was thirty families pass on six sheep each to 180 families.  What was amazing during the whole ceremony was that each pass-on had its own story.  The people who were receiving the sheep really had nothing to give in terms of physical or material possessions, but they gave whatever they could come up with- trinkets, food, drinks, crafts they had made- to show their appreciation.  It was very moving in that sense, because they received the gifts with such graciousness.  In addition, the families who were donating the sheep were once recipients themselves, having been in the same position of not having anything.  To see them now being able to donate to others in need was such an amazing turn-around.

BD- It’s such a huge psychological boost for those families to be able to give what they once were without.  That was a big “Aha” moment for me, because not only are they now able to create a sustainable life for themselves and their communities because of the programs Heifer provided them with and the training they received, but I literally watched their self-esteem completely transform.  They now felt like they were in a position to help others, and that made all the difference in the world for them.  That kind of sustainability is priceless to them.  We met an elderly couple while in Peru that Heifer helped create separate rooms in their home many years ago to give them ways to live sustainably.  When we met them, they were thrilled to be able to show off their place, with a green room and garden that helps them really thrive.  This was a project that ended many years ago, and it has given this couple a wonderful life as a result.

L+W- Is there anything else people should know about Heifer that we haven’t talked about?

NH- Mainly that Heifer is more than donating animals to people in need. It is about passing on the gift, whatever you may have to give.  If you’re an artist, a writer, a musician, passing on that knowledge to someone else is what enables us to build communities that can stand on their own. 

BD- It’s really about putting an end to hunger and poverty.  When Dan West started it, he was helping people in the Spanish Civil War by giving people cups of milk.  He realized they kept coming back for more, and saw a cycle of dependency forming that wasn’t really solving the problem.  So he in turn gave them a cow so they could have all the milk they needed.  There is a phrase, “not a cup but a cow,” which is how the whole organization started.  It has now branched out into so many programs that help people help themselves.  After a project has been completed, we can go back several years from that point and that area will still be thriving.  That’s the beauty of Heifer International.

To learn more about getting involved with Heifer in your local community, visit the Heifer International site
To learn more about Heifer Portland, visit the Heifer Portland Blog